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Notes on "We Can Work It Out"


Notes on ... Series #1.0 (WCWIO.0)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 2 (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 20th, 29th October 1965, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 3rd December 1965 (Double A Single / "Day Tripper")
US-release: 6th December 1965 (Double A Single / "Day Tripper")
  Next note "We Can Work It Out" is a deceptively simple example of how innovative the Boys could be within the framework of what on the surface is a 2:10 single with alternating verse and refrain. Some observations from the ol' perfessor.


  Next note Alternation of verse and refrain is AA'BABA; or as follows:
   Verse 1 | Verse 2 | Refrain |
           | Verse 1 | Refrain |
           | Verse 1 | Brief ending
  What's slightly unusual is that there is no intro, no break, no fade-out. The verse is repeated only the first time; in many other songs, the verse section would be repeated in the middle as well with the repetition in the form of a guitar break.
  Next note The slight asymmetry works very well. If you imagine the verse section repeated at any point of the song other than the first time I believe it would drag. If you omit the first repeat you feel rushed into the refrain.

Harmonic Organization

  Next note The choice of keys and chord progressions here is straightforward compared to other songs; no tricky chromatic progressions (e.g. the intro of "Help!") or remote modulations (e.g. the mid-section of "You're Going To Lose That Girl"). The verses are in D Major, the refrain is in b minor, the "relative minor" of D; pretty standard.
  Next note Two details worth noting:
  • The use of the modal chord progression in the opening phrase to establish the key: D -» C# -» D (I -» VII -» I). Here the VII chord is used instead of the dominant V chord (A-Major) which doesn't make an appearance until the very end of the verse section.
  • The verse and refrain have different harmonic shapes. The verse is open ended in that it proceeds from the tonic eventually to the dominant chord which ultimately wants resolution: I -» VII [!] -» I -» IV -» V; it therefore flows into the refrain even though the b-minor (vi) chord which follows isn't exactly what would be most expected. It's this hanging dominant chord, by the way which requires the brief ending to tie things up neatly. The refrain, by contrast is closed in shape: i -» VI -» V -» i. This closed-ness is part of why the return to the original key seems somewhat abrupt; of course the rhythm (see next) plays a part in that too.

Rhythm and Phrasing

  Next note Here's where things really get interesting! Compared to other songs (e.g. "Can't Buy Me Love") where phrases are all four-measures long and come in sixteen-measure verses and refrains of four-times-four, this song does some fancy things.
  • The verses are indeed sixteen measures long but are divided into three phrases in a 6 + 6 + 4 pattern. This lends them a bit of a free-verse quality in spite of the underlying steady 4/4 rhythm.
  • The refrain indeed contains only four-measure phrases but these are organized into a twelve-measure section of three-times-four which is repeated. The asymmetry of this three line refrain is effectively underscored by the shift to the 3/4 "oom-pah-pah" rhythm in the third phrase. This rhythmic shift is interesting in that it is done without changing the tempo. The length of a measure remains the same except it is suddenly filled for one phrase with three beats instead of four; a sort of time warp. When the verse returns after this it sounds faster but isn't really!

Melodic Motif

  Next note The melody and the accompaniment of the song is "appoggiatura" intensive (i.e. this is a technical term defined as follows: "a 'leaning note', normally one step above the main note. It usually creates a dissonance in the harmony and resolves by step on to the main note on the following weak beat." "Grove Dictionary", quoted without permission). A couple of highlighted lyric fragments to show where these babies are:
  • Think of what I'm say-ing
  • We can work it out.
  • We can work it ou-ut.
  • ... and there's no ti-i-i-i--ime
  • fussing and fight-ing my friend.
  The instrumental part also exhibits this tendency. In take 1 you can hear a lot of leaning tones in top line of the rhythm guitar. It even carries through to the final melodic riff of the ending.
  Next note Perhaps the best example (and also one of the highlights of the entire song) is in the refrain where the harmonium sustains the note B-natural through a change of chord from b-minor, to G-Major (where it belongs) and continues to hold it through the shift down to F#-Major before letting it fall finally to A#-Major. Again, the take 2 we're privileged to have with the forward mixed harmonium really underscores it.
  Next note A-a-a-nyway, there's still more one could say but I think I've overdone it here plenty for one day; is there anyone I haven't alienated :-)
  Next note Warning: this could become part of a series if you don't watch out.
  Alan (053189#1.0)
Copyright © 1989 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.